Trustee profile: Ruth Vail

Ruth Vail helps organize sanctuary files at the MNA office. Photo from MNA archives.

As a volunteer, Ruth Vail spent countless hours assisting with the review of sanctuary legal files.  Photo from MNA archives.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Ruth Vail has been a dedicated member of the Michigan Nature Association since the mid-1970s, winning the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2009, helping the organization to achieve accreditation and now currently serving on the Board as Trustee-at-Large.

“It’s our turn as current board members to carry on with that mission and to assure a legacy of preservation as the founders did for us,” she said.

Vail said she holds her position in high esteem and is happy she now has more time to commit to MNA.

“We are so fortunate to live in Michigan and so it is our responsibility and our duty to preserve as much of the natural heritage as (we) can,” she said.

This responsibility is largely why she became involved in MNA, she said. One of her favorite parts about being involved with MNA was the ability to explore its hidden, protected gems, she said.

“One of my favorite memories was seeing Showy Lady’s-slipper orchids growing under some power lines in an obscure sanctuary in Oakland County,” Vail said. 

Upon this memory, Vail said she felt a sense of pride to belong to a group that strives to protect Michigan’s nature.

Beyond her stewardship, Vail also played a key role in helping MNA achieve accreditation in 2013.

“Mostly, I worked on the sanctuary legal files … making sure we know (each sanctuary’s) legal status, that we have deeds, access, adequate protection, tax-exempt status, title insurance, etc. (It) was daunting,” she said.

Despite how enormous the workload seemed, Vail, along with several other volunteers and MNA staff, were able to get the information MNA needed to achieve accreditation.

During this process, Vail had the chance to explore sanctuary files, prompting her to get out and visit different sanctuaries.

“The chance to visit one of the sanctuaries I’d been working on was just the greatest privilege,” she said. 

One memory was her visit to Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary which she said was particularly rewarding.

Vail said she considers herself a “general citizen with concern and love for Michigan.” She said this quality is how she hopes to represent the board members.

“I try to think of my own years of sending in my membership dues and trusting that the Trustees were doing their best to spend money and energy wisely. I want to be a part of a board that is living up to their expectations,” she said.


Trustee Profile: Paul Messing

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Paul Messing with Executive Director Garret Johnson after receiving the 2012 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Paul Messing with Executive Director Garret Johnson after receiving the 2012 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Paul Messing joined MNA’s Board of Trustees in 2013 and has been an active member and volunteer at MNA sanctuaries in southeast Michigan for years. Paul began his work at MNA by leading hikes and distributing information about the Michigan Nature Association to the community. Now, in addition to joining the board, he serves as the steward at Lost Lake Nature Sanctuary and is the co-steward at Frinks Pond Plant Preserve and Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary. He was named one of MNA’s Volunteers of the Year at the 2012 Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner.

We took a few minutes to chat with Paul recently about his experiences with MNA:

1. When did you first learn about the Michigan Nature Association and what made you get involved? I first found out about a Michigan Nature Association Sanctuary (Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Nature Sanctuary) near my home in 2010 when I was researching the possibility of identifying tall trees in the area as part of the American Forests Big Trees program. An internet search yielded a link to the MNA website, and I became very curious about the Wilcox-Warnes sanctuary from the description. I visited shortly thereafter, and I was impressed by the nature of the sanctuary. The tall trees described on the website were so impressive in person. Leaves on the sprouting wildflowers were emerging on the early spring day. In 2011, after becoming a member, I met at the Wilcox-Warnes sanctuary for a workday to build sections of boardwalk and learn more about the sanctuary from the people that supported the organization.  I was instantly hooked by the enthusiasm of the volunteers and staff and what supporting the mission had to offer.

I quickly made it my goal to find out more about the other sanctuaries, and I worked throughout the year to visit sanctuaries and participate in various events that MNA offered.  These included the Spring Adventure offered that year and a hike at McGaw and Polovich sanctuaries. I also joined in on a workday at Saginaw Wetlands. After that, Bullard Lake Fen and Lefglen sanctuaries captured my attention to round out the year. In all, I had visited 18 sanctuaries that year, and was impressed by what I saw at every turn. 2012 was another great year as I continued adding to my stewardship roles, volunteer experience at many sanctuaries, and then finally being recruited to volunteer as a Trustee.

2. Is there anything you have accomplished or hope to accomplish since becoming a Trustee for the Michigan Nature Association?  My goal as a Trustee is to help the organization in its mission, especially as it relates to technology. I feel I bring a wealth of experience with my use of computers, and I hope to find ways to improve aspects of the organization in that respect.  I have enjoyed being part of a great team of knowledgeable Trustees. The responsibility to keep MNA a sustainable organization, just as we look to keep all of the habitats we steward sustainable, is all of our responsibility.  It is my goal to continue to support the organization in ensuring our mission continues.

3. What is special to you about the natural environment of Michigan?  Michigan seems to me to be a such a transitional, moderate climate; it’s certainly not tropical, nor arctic, but covered with some hilly terrain, wetlands, and even well drained areas. It harnesses such a variety of wildlife, be it our year-round birds or those migrating through.  It is also interesting how we are at one of the transitions between the conifer forests of the north and the deciduous forests more common to the south. All this helps me appreciate the place each species has in the environment. There are so many species of plants and animals to be discovered, some of which keep only a small piece of their range in Michigan.

4. What activities are you currently involved in for the Michigan Nature Association?  Besides Steward and Trustee roles, I have volunteered to mark boundaries at various sanctuaries. As I continue to try to transition from a novice birder toward an expert, I use Cornell’s eBird to report what I see or hear while hiking and volunteering at sanctuaries. I also enjoy trying to capture the wildlife through photography. It is such a great way share with others and for posterity the great variety of life out there.

5. What are some of the most memorable moments you have with the MNA?  Seeing many firsts at the sanctuaries, have been quite memorable. These include observing three rare ferns on a trip through the Eastern UP, and seeing Michigan’s only rattlesnake, the Massasauga, at two MNA sanctuaries last year. I also really enjoyed creating the design for a bridge that I helped to build at Kernan Memorial Sanctuary.  That was a real team effort and I was so proud to see the project completed.

Katherine Hollins, Bill McEachern, and Paul Messing stand on the completed bridge at Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

Katherine Hollins, Bill McEachern, and Paul Messing stand on the completed bridge at Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary.